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Turning A Viral Moment Into An Advocacy Movement

Research shows that a lot of prosocial behaviors come not from shared biology (from the group we are genetically related to), but rather from a particularly lasting form of social cohesion we call 'identity fusion.

MIA RISHEL: ‘The killing of Cecil the lion by a trophy hunter in 2015 prompted one of the most widespread reactions in the history of wildlife conservation. His death attracted global attention on social media, and donations to the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), which had been studying him, skyrocketed. But unlike many other viral moments, this one sparked lasting conservation activism: Donations continued to pour in long after Cecil’s death. In addition, donors reported feeling strong negative emotions about the event and many said it had an effect on their personal identity. Few stories of trophy hunting become headlines. Cecil’s story wasn’t all that unique, but the viral moment it prompted was…

Recent studies in anthropology and psychology may provide an explanation. Research shows that a lot of prosocial behaviors come not from shared biology (that is, from the group we are genetically related to) but rather from a particularly lasting form of social cohesion we call “identity fusion”… The fusion that occurs is that between the personal and social “self,” whereby boundaries between the two are blurred when a person experiences a strong sense of oneness with a particular group. A research group at the University of Oxford wanted to look at the identity fusion that seemed to have developed among donors to WildCRU following Cecil’s death…

Researchers analyzed responses from donors who took part in both surveys. A brief analysis of participants showed that 83% were female and 80% college graduates. The researchers found that… Participants who expressed feeling strongly dysphoric in response to Cecil’s death experienced strong fusion to both Cecil and WildCRU… Fusion increased most among participants who reported that they (1) reflected intensely on Cecil’s death and (2) perceived his death as an experience that affected their personal identity and the identities of others with the same experience…

These findings imply that both continual personal reflection and the communication and perception of other group members help create identity fusion, which seems to be very effective in sparking lasting conservation efforts remotely. More empirical research is needed, and conservation and animal advocates can use knowledge of these processes to increase fusion among current supporters and to gain new ones. This can aid in creating stronger campaigns to help animals both at home and remotely’. SOURCE…

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